The great thing about graphic novels is the ability to tell a story on a grand scale, and on a budget that almost anyone can handle. You don’t really need much more than a pencil, paper, and a story to get started. It’s also really nice because being the illustrator means your imagery is a large reason why people buy the book.
The project started after I did some political cartoons about the 2008 Presidential campaigns. The client liked what I did, and several months later they contacted me and we worked out a test comic together. It eventually evolved into a 100+ page novel. It has been a fairly long and involved project, especially considering I am the sole individual behind illustrating it. A whole book involves tons of work, especially considering each panel can be an illustration on its own. Throughout the project I’ve ended up drawing several hundred full-color images. Its definitely something I’m not used to, and keeping everything cohesive is a quite the challenge… especially considering my style has evolved a bit since I started. However, this book is really fun and has influenced my style quite a bit. I think its what finally helped me choose a direction with my work.
Growing up I was never really into comic books or graphic novels, even though I was surrounded by them. Almost all of what I know about storytelling comes from reading newspaper comics. As a kid, they came with the parents’ newspaper so they were ‘free.’ You also get tons of exposure to many different ideas and styles in a short sitting. To me, the champion of those has to be Bill Watterson. He will always will be my biggest hero. There was something about the way he communicated his ideas through Calvin and Hobbes, something I think all storytellers should strive for. He was able to reach readers of all ages, even though many of his ideas were quite grand and radical at times. I own almost all of the Calvin and Hobbes collections, which I thumb through often for inspiration.
Then there is Art Spiegelman who’s comics are a favorite of mine especially his graphic novel Maus. Karl Kopinski who is an absolutely phenomenal illustrator. He has some amazing black and white inkwork. I used to strive to be like him, although now my style isn’t like his all. Eric Palma is another favorite, and I had the pleasure of having him as a professor while in school. Lastly, I have some Punch magazine cartoon compilations that I grew up reading. Very dry and sarcastic British humor, which eventually rubbed off on me I guess.
There are a bunch of websites out there that try to hook up small businesses with people who can provide work. Elance is the main website like this I have worked with, but I have also tried out oDesk and Guru. There is a decent amount of work to be found on these, but there are quite a few setbacks as well. Its quite competitive, and you end up dealing with a client who usually has a strong image in their head of what they want. However, I have met some great people on there that have lead to some fantastic opportunities.
The idea for stock illustration came from me having all of these old illustrations sitting around collecting dust. I figured that I might as well try and see if I can make some use of them. Its a little bit of a pain to get accepted, you have to take a few tests and some practice submissions. The main problem is that they generally only accept vector work, and it has to be absolutely perfect in terms of closed shapes, stray points, etc… The money from this is terrible, but terrible money is better than no money! Especially if it was never going to be used again.
I think the best part is being able to help people visualize their ideas. Its very rewarding to see someone so excited about something you’ve done. Its even better when they come back for more work. Plus, you get paid to draw! What could be better than that?
The most difficult thing is having to work against your client. Some clients like to think they are expert art directors, and can demand changes that visually make no sense. While I gladly welcome feedback and changes, sometimes things do get out of hand. Thankfully this is fairly uncommon.
If you could have a career in anything other than illustration in another life, what would you do?
A Veterinarian would have been very fun and rewarding profession. I love creatures of all shapes and sizes. I’m also the kind of guy who catches that annoying fly in the house and lets it go outside instead of swatting it.